Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

After more than 70 years of service, Diocesan Council of Catholic Women to disband

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the July 1, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Early members of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women pose for a portrait with Spokane’s Bishop Charles White in this undated photo. (IR photo from the Diocesan Archives)

Helen Fitzsimmons, of Spokane, president of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW), announced recently that after 77 years the DCCW is officially disbanded.

“We met with Bishop Skylstad and explained that we are no longer able to interest younger women in taking leadership roles, and he gave his permission for the DCCW to bring its existence to an end,” Fitzsimmons said. “We took a vote of the membership and the decision was to donate our remaining funds to Catholic Charities, which we have already done.”

In years past, the DCCW described itself through its affiliation with the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), which “acts through its 8,000 affiliated organizations to support, empower, and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership, and service. The NCCW programs respond with Gospel values to the needs of the church and society in the modern world.”

According to an historical essay written in recent years, the DCCW traced its beginnings to September of 1932 when “someone from Spokane” traveled to Great Falls, Mont., to attend the first annual convention of the Great Falls Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. Held at the College of Great Falls, this convention lasted two days, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 14-15, and included speakers and a tea. There also was a Mass and banquet each day.

After a letter of invitation from Spokane’s Bishop Charles White, Miriam Marks – residence apparently unknown – arrived by train in December 1932 to visit with the bishop and speak to women in the diocese who were active in “parish societies” to stimulate interest in establishing a Council of Catholic Women for Eastern Washington. Then, on Feb. 2, 1933, Bishop White sent a letter to the Committee on Credentials of the San Francisco Regional Conference of the NCCW. In his letter, Bishop White authorized Mrs. J.G. Luger to represent the diocese’s Council of Catholic Women, along with Mrs. Arthur Clauson, the bishop’s Executive Secretary, and two unnamed Sisters from Spokane’s Marycliff High School who represented the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. It isn’t clear whether all were to represent the new DCCW or if the latter three were simply listed as participants.

Later that year, Bishop White sent letters to all Catholic organizations in the diocese, asking that each “name a parish chairwoman of their organization.” Evidently, Bishop White’s intention was to organize a Council in each parish in the diocese.

On Oct. 3, 1933, an organizational meeting was held in Rosalia, and five days later, meetings occurred in Clarkston and Uniontown. Meetings in other parishes took place on Oct. 15. The organizational meeting for Spokane on Oct. 24 drew 133 women from Spokane itself and 58 from outside Spokane. The main goal was to familiarize women with the advantages of affiliation with the NCCW. The essay reports that “surprisingly, this meeting was attended by both women and men’s councils.”

In a letter to presidents and other officers of the parish councils of Catholic women, dated Oct. 31, 1933, the bishop wrote: “The formalities of organization are now practically completed; the Parish District and Diocesan constitutions and by-laws have been adopted and officers have been elected…. Our immediate Catholic Action program to be the Study Clubs.”

Though no date was recorded, at a subsequent gathering, “Mrs. D.E. Crowley (Helen Burke)” was elected the first president of the Spokane DCCW. Mrs. Mary McDonnell became the present of the Walla Walla. There were Okanogan and Colfax Districts, too, but no information seems to have survived about leadership in these areas.

In April of 1934, Mrs. P.H. Brady sent a letter to Bishop White informing him that $72.20 had been collected from nine parishes in the Spokane District of the DCCW. Sometime thereafter, she evidently sent $90 to the NCCW to pay for affiliation. According to the historical essay, “Bishop White was very involved (during) the first years (of the DCCW,) urging and exhorting the ladies of the parishes.”

The NCCW remains active and will hold its annual convention Nov. 10-13 of this year in Washington, D.C. More information about the NCCW is available from their web site:

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